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Foundation: Paolina Stefani

Paolina Stefani, Lethaby: A Continuing Presence, Installation View, Lethaby Gallery, 2018
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Published date
01 May 2018

Our Foundation Diploma in Art and Design is divided into four curriculum areas: 3-Dimensional Design and Architecture; Fashion and Textiles; Fine Art and Graphic Communication Design. Each of these areas is divided into pathways. Here, Graphic Design student Paolina Stefani tells us about preparing for the Foundation show and her site-specific project which will be on view in the Lethaby Gallery between 3 and 5 May 2018.

Can you tell us about your final project for the Foundation show?

I asked a group of students at Central Saint Martins to formulate new sentences with the words written by William Richard Lethaby in his essays about design. [The founding head of the Central School of Art and Design – later Central Saint Martins – and an architect and architectural historian, Lethaby gives his name to our Lethaby Gallery, which will play host to the 2018 Foundation Show.] My aim was to start from his words, representing his vision of the College, and through a process of erasure, select sentences that would represent the current design-thinking of Central Saint Martins students. The resulting piece of text therefore both embodies Lethaby’s heritage and our continuation of his principles, to be shaped and adjusted into contemporary thinking.

From the new text I chose the sentence: “The necessity is to always be puzzled, to find myself in a world where work and art really make up what should be one body of a human service.” For me, this best represented my experience at Central Saint Martins – what I have learnt and, more generally, the approach all creative minds should take when developing an idea. By scaling up the text and putting it on the gallery columns, the architecture embraces it and they become conceptually linked. It acknowledges Lethaby’s writings as the foundations of the physical and conceptual structure of the College. I think the book title – Lethaby: A Continuing PresenceA 1922 Collection Of Lethaby’s Papers – from which the students developed the new text, gives the project a poetic aspect. Physically embodying his words, the text reaffirms Lethaby’s continuing presence.

Paolina Stefani, Lethaby: A Continuing Presence, Installation View, Lethaby Gallery, 2018

Tell us a bit about your practice in general and your interests – do you have any particular areas of research you are interested in, or problems you want to address with design?

Growing up in a multilingual family gave birth to my biggest interest: communication. Having the ability to speak different languages made me realise that while the words we use to express ourselves may change, feelings remain universal. From childhood, I have been curious about the many ways people embrace the diversity of emotion. A graphic designer has to be able to understand, through empathy and intelligence, what people are trying to express, acting as a translator and interpreter of feelings.

My aim as a designer is to find a solution to the contemporary problem of image overload. Design should be treasured, and images should not be carelessly distributed. My creation process evolves through experimentation and observation, locating criticism not as an obstacle but as a source of motivation. Nature and culture, active and passive attitudes, time and change, inspire my work. I am always in awe when I see how an idea develops into a choice and ultimately an action. When developing a project, I try and emulate this process of evolution. For me, stillness is counterproductive. Through dynamism, instability and variability, I have learnt to analyse my thoughts, using an approach that does not follow a predetermined path, but instead allows me freedom to explore and experiment. Uncertainty can be fertile ground for the best ideas.

Within design, I am most interested in text – finding pleasure in expressing the meaning of a word or an idea through the spacing, sizing and placement of letters on a page. With my latest project I reflected on text’s spatial meaning, exploring its connection with architecture. Mirroring the importance of key words on the page, I gave them a bigger space in the world.

Can you tell us a bit about how your work has progressed over the past year at Central Saint Martins?

While I have been studying here, being able to develop a solid conceptual meaning has made the evolution of my projects feel natural. My biggest challenge has been to make the visual aspects as strong as the theoretical ones. Committed to finding a solution to this, I have pushed myself to sketch and draw more than I used to. I have worked on translating my ideas into images. One of my foundation tutors said, “A good graphic designer can visualise something that is not yet there or there anymore.” This became my mantra when initiating a project and developing an idea. By applying this rule, I have learnt how to break things down to in order to put them together again in different, better ways. Choosing Graphic Communication Design as my pathway has given me the opportunity to develop the way I give my thoughts a physical body.

Have there been any particular briefs or projects that you really enjoyed working on?

One of the projects I gained most from was called Made to Persuade. We had two weeks to make a design, product or experience that would initiate an interaction with a public audience, making them think, act, smile, laugh or cry. Ultimately, we were pushed to find ways to present a new way of thinking or interacting with the world. The final outcome was then exposed to the public during an open day. I devised a strategy to attract attention to my work and persuade people to interact with it. The whole experience was an opportunity to question the nature and purpose of design, and to apply design-thinking to wider social and political problems. It’s only through this project that I realised the importance and potential graphic design really holds.

What are your plans for after Foundation?

I have been accepted onto BA Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins. My plan now is to keep being curious, spontaneous, intuitive and learn through accidents. Over the next few months, I will travel and challenge myself, in order to create new connections and opportunities for dialogue and interaction. I look forward to meeting new people, learning from those who share my thoughts and ideas as well as those who think differently. I think this is the best way to get inspired in preparation for next year – which I already know, will be full of surprises.